It wasn't the opening match. It was the final group match and a must win for NI. I watched it in a hotel ballroom in Santo Domingo (the same hotel that featured in Godfather III as a Havana hotel) and was later interviewed on Dominican TV as the only Nor'ironer available in a crowd of Spaniards. The next day I got on a plane for Belfast. In the second group stage we drew with Austria, but France then eliminated us.
A great achievement, but not as great as the double win over the Czechs in Sweden in '58. In the group stage the Czechs lost to NI 1-0, then beat Argentina 6-1, forcing a play-off match for second place in the group. NI beat them again, this time 2-1 after extra time. To qualify out of a group of Argentina-West Germany-Czechoslovakia-Northern Ireland was pretty good.
Fair enough. That 1982 success was before my lifetime so I was only going on what a mate told me, and yes their exploits in 1958 would top that. In their final group match before the play-off, against West Germany, NI were twice ahead against the defending champions, and came close to pulling off a victory that would have ranked as the best in their history. They still reached the last 8 though which was all that mattered. NI are the second smallest nation to have qualified for a World Cup tournament (and the smallest nation to have qualified for more than one World Cup), so reaching 2 quarter-finals is nothing short of outstanding.
David Healy scoring 13 goals in the Euro 2008 qualifying group was awesome, and in addition to the 3-2 victory over Spain, taking 4 points off both Sweden and Denmark was very impressive indeed.
The Spain victory came 4 days after the players and manager were villified for that 3-0 home defeat to Iceland. How quickly things changed, and the fact that they overtook Republic of Ireland in the rankings must also have been nice.